INDIANAPOLIS — Michigan coaches had a question for Emil Ekiyor after the offensive lineman from Indianapolis Cathedral High School announced last October his commitment to be a part of U-M’s 2018 recruiting class.
“They asked me if there were any guys in Indy that they should look out for,” Ekiyor said.
Ekiyor immediately had a name for them.
Cameron McGrone of Lawrence Central.
The two highest-rated players in the state of Indiana, according to the 247Sports composite system, and U.S. Army All-American invitees are committed to becoming Wolverines next season. It’s not a coincidence. They grew up in the same township, first meeting in youth football. Although they’ve never been on the same team, Ekiyor and McGrone are close friends who helped each other in the recruiting process.
Ekiyor and McGrone went on visits to Michigan together. They traveled to Oregon for the Opening Finals in July. When McGrone, a linebacker, announced his commitment to Michigan on July 31, his buddy was there to support him.
“It definitely helped me, especially the trip to Oregon,” said McGrone about his friendship with Ekiyor. “When I saw he got his [Opening] invite first, I said, “I have to make it so I can hang out with him.” I knew some of the guys just from texting them but to have a friend I really knew and could talk to everyday made the experience even more fantastic.”
A pop no one wants
Participating in Nike’s summer elite recruiting bazaar was a bigger accomplishment for McGrone than most. He tore an ACL last October in Lawrence Central’s final regular-season game. He had to miss the postseason, including a 21-17 loss to Cathedral in the Class 6A sectional finals.
The two schools are separated by 2.5 miles on 56th Street in the northeast quadrant of Indianapolis.
“The tears in his eyes before that game told you everything you needed to know about what it meant to him not to be playing,” Lawrence Central coach Bill Peebles said.
McGrone pushed his way back. When he heard for himself the “pop” sound he’s listened others describe, and felt the tear, McGrone thought his chance at college football was also torn. That fear turned into determination.
“This summer, I tried to slow him down. I’ve never seen somebody come back so quickly and so fully,” Peebles said. “He practiced with us full start in June. I was scared he was coming back too early, so I was telling him to slow down, to say ‘No, you’re not doing this.’ He was fully confident right away. My job was opposite of what you might think. No, you’re not going to do this today. It was protecting him.”
One friend helping another
Ekiyor gave McGrone the phone number of a contact at Michigan. He was able to get an invite to the spring game last April, but at the time Michigan wasn’t putting much emphasis on adding linebackers because it had signed so many in the 2016 and 2017 classes. That emphasis changed when they switched the positions of a couple of players.
Michigan defensive coordinator Don Brown was intrigued, so he came to Indy from Ann Arbor to watch McGrone work out. He wanted to see that knee for himself. Convinced of what he saw, Brown invited McGrone to Michigan for a visit on June 22. That was McGrone’s birthday.
Brown’s present was an official scholarship offer. Five weeks later, McGrone was joining Ekiyor. They’ll finally get to play on the same team.
“My parents always told me when it comes down to making my decision to go with my gut,” McGrone said. “Take everything that you know from the academic, to the athletics, to the campus life and bring it all in and go with my gut. I felt Michigan was my best choice.”
Michigan first offered Ekiyor when he was a freshman. Jim Harbaugh was still preparing for his first season as the Wolverines head coach. Ekiyor’s was a much longer recruiting courtship than McGrone’s but he’s glad to have his friend with him now.
“I think being from the same city means a lot and knowing that we’re going to the same place, have the same goals, accomplishing great things, has brought us together,” Ekiyor said. “We talk almost every day. We tried taking visits together. I think that brought us close.”